Long-term solid waste solution vital in light of China ban

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Cruise the alleys of the older parts of McCook and other small towns and you’ll notice structures that jog the memories of the older among us while baffling younger folks.

For many of us, one of our first chores was taking the household trash out to the incinerator — that fireplace-like brick structure that has fallen into disrepair, been overgrown with vines or converted into a planter.

Personal incinerators fell out of favor with the growth of environmental awareness, and the conscientious among us now separate our trash into appropriate containers, glass, aluminum, paper, different types of plastic, removing solid waste from the general stream of garbage and helping save the environment in the process.

Unfortunately, it’s back to the future for a lot of those recyclables, thanks to a recent decision by China to stop accepting our cast-off material.

As a result, a lot of that cardboard, plastic and paper is winding up, you guessed it, in city incineration facilities.

McCook’s solid waste is still being separated at the recycling center, but the materials often stay right there on site, for months or years, at the mercy of the recycling market.

That that isn’t recycled is shipped off to a solid waste disposal site south of Ogallala.

Elsewhere around the country, those erstwhile recyclables end up being burned, although it’s in city-operated incineration centers rather than individual burning structures.

Concerned citizens worry that the situation will push the U.S. closer to China’s notoriously bad air quality.

They worry that burning plastic can create a new fog of dioxins that will increase cases of respiratory illness and cancer.

The long-term solution, of course, is to somehow break ourselves of the disposable habit, finding ways to reduce and reuse product packaging, shift to reusable shopping bags and implement truly biodegradable containers.

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